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OGDEN - A new photo exhibit at Weber State University sheds light on an episode in Ogden's history that is fast fading from memory: the two years during World War II when 9,500 Italian and German prisoners of war were held here.
The exhibit opens today in the Stewart Library as part of a symposium illuminating aspects of the war, which ended 60 years ago.
Photos show the prisoners, with "PW" stamped on the backs of their uniforms, working in apple orchards or on base as well as worshipping and even performing in an orchestra.
The photos are from the Stewart Library Special Collections, which has more than 80 boxes of materials donated by the U.S. Army when it closed Defense Depot Ogden in the 1990s.
That depot, then called Utah Armed Service Forces Depot, housed Utah's share of the POWs in barracks north of the warehouses at the depot, which is now being transformed into a business park.
The prisoners worked on the depot as well as for area farmers. At one point, German prisoners were sent to Snowbasin to build a ski run, which was used to help disabled U.S. soldiers - staying at Bushnell Hospital in Brigham City- recover.
Italian POWs were the first to arrive, in groups of 250 to 1,030 beginning in April 1943. The 4,657 Italians were captured in North Africa and Tunisia by American and British armies and eventually arrived in Ogden, the first coming by boxcars.
When Italy surrendered to the Allies in September 1943, the POWs were allowed to join Italian Service Units at the camp, which recognized them as allies, giving them more freedom than previously, although they were still held in the camp.
German POWs, who began arriving in August 1944, were less free. The first were captured in France and in Italy after D-Day. Ultimately, 4,900 German prisoners were housed in Ogden.
Utah historian Kent Powell, who interviewed former POWs for his 1989 book Splinters of a Nation: German Prisoners of War in Utah, said the Italians had a better chance of mingling with residents after their status as prisoners changed. That is probably why several returned to Ogden after the war, marrying Utah women and building lives in Weber County.
Powell said he is not aware of any former German POWs who moved back to Ogden, although sculptor Frederick Weber returned to Utah several years after his repatriation to Germany and conversion there to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
* What: Weber State University's Utah Construction/Utah International Symposium with the theme "Building America's Defense: 1939-1975."
* Lectures/panel discussions: Douglas Brinkley speaks today at 7 p.m. in Lindquist Hall, with a reception and book signing at 6 p.m. at Dumke Family Atrium. Brinkley is the author of The Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion.
Robert Berlin, U.S. Army Command College, talks about building America's defense Thursday at 9 a.m. and a panel discussion on World War II and the Cold War follows at 10 a.m., both at the Stewart Library Special Collections.
* Photos: Two exhibits are planned, both at Stewart Library. They are "Prisoners of War in Ogden: 1943-1944" and "Building America's Defense: 1943-1975."